High heeled sandals in Simla rains…….Dilemmas of adolescence in Simla of the Sixties

High heeled sandals in Simla rains…….Dilemmas of adolescence in Simla of the Sixties

The family picture of us four…Amma, Bauji, Di and I taken in 1963 elicited a comment from my daughter, “Maa you are trying to hide your shoes in the picture…and the toes are almost white!” I, too, looked at the picture with revived curiosity and found her observation to be so apt. “How I wish I could buy you all the shoes and sandals of the world,” she said, “All” continued she with love and lament!

And I thought of an era of the Sixties when Bauji would say exasperated with white toes of my shoes which double or triple application of black boot polish would not camouflage, “Next time you are going to get boys’ shoes with extra hard leather on the toes….the Fauzi style !” And I would be so dreaded…what if he gets me those shoes. How would I go to school wearing those manly shoes! Amma would add, “and look at her feet…so big for her age!” Her argument was that keeping feet in tight boys’ shoes would make my feet not grow in size! I would feel like cutting the toes of my feet. I could not tell him that I had heated up the Boot polish container on Angithee and applying the liquid on the toes to cover up the white patch. But when the veneer of leather was gone how could my shoe toes be fresh and black?
Amma, too, was tired of drying my shoes using various methods as I would walk from school to home in the rain…taking the side drains full of water…. While the duck back raincoat would protect my clothes and bags….the poor shoes and socks would be drenched in water. And drying them by putting before the heat of Angithee would make them hard and distorted in shape! Amma was really fed up of all this!

Bauji would look at my big feet and patting them lovingly say, ” Chinese people love small feet…in girls,” and hugging me close would add, ” but she is my Saroj Singh…with big feet!” And he would tell me stories about how chinese babies, the girls, have their feet bound in a tight case so that their feet do not outgrow a specific size and shape. I was glad that I was not born a Chinese baby! I felt pity on them for how could they jump up and down the stairs, kicking all the time at whatever they came across, the way I did, even at the cost of white toes on black leather shoes!  

But whatever may have been the reason, I never got dainty, delicate red bellies with pointed toes  ever! Or even sandals with delicate straps and pencil heels…. I was so embarrassed of my big feet!

Much later I would look at all those beautiful sandals with delicate thin leather straps in beautiful colours, in pencil heels, displayed in the window of Ta Tung and Hugh but would think of my big feet and how would they look in those delicate pencil heel sandals. The image would not be very flattering. And then I walked so fast most of the time…jumping over stairs…no, no, these would not fit my style, I would rue! For me sneakers were the best! I would reason that tall as I am why do I need high heeled sandals…and walk past, hurriedly, those inviting show windows!

It was the college farewell party when I got money from Bauji to purchase anything. I had to make a choice of buying a saree or the high heeled Chinese sandals that had captivated my heart for a very long time!  I reasoned that saree can be borrowed but not the sandals. The saree would be put in trunk after using it for a day but sandals would last for a long time…I could wear them with salwar suits, bell bottoms or even chooridars! So sandals it had to be. The choice made…the process to acquire one started…the arduous process, when I would have to bring my feet out for display! And that too…to a Chinese man who value small feet in women….belief in traditions die hard!
The Ta Tungs and the Hugh’s would ask the customer to get their foot on a big register and mark the size by moving around the pencil. Chandra would, very delicately, put her small foot on the page of the register and her foot measurements would be recorded. It would be my turn now. I would have taken extra care to put my best foot forward on the page of the register but to me it would feel as if my foot may not cross the edge of the paper. It would not but in my mind I would be so careful to squeeze my toes!

Once the owner at Hugh’s, in his usual benign smiling way, said to Chandra, “big foot…your friend has big foot!” Oh…I thought he knows that I have size 6…the Bata shoe sizes! ” And when we started with pricing of the sandals…he said, “Big feet …more leather!” I was so ashamed of my big feet! I wanted to hide them somewhere! I thought of how right Amma was that I had big feet!
But I was so happy that I was finally getting high heeled, though block heeled, big black leather sandals…the ones I wanted to adorn my feet in….on the special day…my college farewell party!

And that day it rained so heavily….I was in a borrowed saree, fully made up face complete with lipstick and my cherished high heeled sandals on my big feet! Walking on the Mall in heavy rain, when I had put on those high heeled sandals the first time in my life…would remain etched in my mind! I wanted to unhook my sandals, put them in my hands, under some cover and run for my life! More than anything else I was worried about my sandals!
The pictures of that farewell party were posted by Kamaljeet in the group and so many memories came flooding back to me! Though I am looking beautiful in the pics but that fateful day it was my own heart, crumpled and lost, that lay at my feet ..my big 6 no. feet….in high heeled black sandals, drenched in Simla rains!! The notorious Simla rains… But the leather was strong and seasoned…as promised and my high heeled black sandals survived proudly the first ever drench they had on the famous Mall road of Simla of the Seventies!!!

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